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Social Issues

there’s a difference between criticism and bullying

Tone policing is wrong. Respectability politics is wrong. Telling victims that they shouldn’t respond with anger to someone participating in abuse apologetics (inadvertently or not) is wrong. Anyone, anyone at all, is and should be open to criticism, even vociferous criticism. When I read Captivating and watch John and Stasi go on for pages about white supremacy I’m going to call it like I see it, and I’m going to say what the fuck. Out loud. When Grace Driscoll perpetuates the extremely damaging teaching that victims should repent, I’m going to talk about it, and I’m going to be harsh.

When Matthew Paul Turner uses a gendered slur to complain about criticism, I’m going to say “hey, not cool,” no matter how much I appreciate the past work he’s done for people like one of my closest friends. When Rachel Held Evans repeats the same tired lines abuse victims have been hearing for centuries, I’m also going to point out that it’s not ok.

I’ve been on the receiving end of some pretty pointed criticism. I do my best to always listen to it, even if I have to walk away and leave it for a bit. Eventually I always come back and ask myself is this criticism valid? Where do I think they have a point? If what they’ve said makes sense to me, I do my best to incorporate it and move on. Some criticism has radically changed the way I do things on here. Some criticism has helped only in that it helps me avoid certain pot holes in the future– like writing “I know, not all men” ad nauseum when I talk about rape, no matter how ridiculous I think it is to include it.

There are some writers online who disagree with the way I do things, with the way I express myself and my opinions. I’m not overly concerned with being perceived as “nice,” and the whole tone of my blog is about the furthest thing that anyone would describe as “gentle.” A Sarah Bessey or Preston Yancey, I am most definitely not.

I also think it’s egregiously wrong to expect survivors to be a “well-behaved victim” or a “model survivor,” which happens sometimes. A lot of the time, our hurting is going to be messy and loud and obnoxious and I don’t fucking care if you’re ok with that or not. I have the right to stomp on things and rage, and so does anyone else. How we heal shouldn’t be policed or managed. Everyone’s journey is going to look different, and just because someone managed to recover while appearing placid and calm and tranquil doesn’t mean the person scream-sobbing is doing it wrong.

But. There is a difference between being angry and loud when you criticize someone’s actions or words and making it your mission for weeks on end to harass a person. Abuse survivors can also be bullies. Just because we’ve survived spiritual abuse, or sexual abuse, or domestic violence, does not mean that we are ourselves immune from engaging in the same behaviors that were used to control and manipulate us.

I am not interested in roaming the internet and telling people that I think the way they’re responding to X situation isn’t what I would do. This is something you have to evaluate on your own and decide for yourself if you’re comfortable with it. There’s lots of things that I don’t personally do because it isn’t the right avenue for me that plenty of other people do on the regular. For example, I don’t really do online debates. Not even in my own comment section. I don’t argue with people on Twitter. Sometimes I’ll respond, but it’s going to be a single comment or tweet most of the time. I’ll engage people in conversation, but the second it takes on that “debate” tone I whistle for a cab. That doesn’t mean that I think getting into it on Twitter is a “wrong” way to be an activist. I appreciate the people who are willing to do that because I’m not.

I’ve learned that, for myself, engaging in extended online debates isn’t healthy and is almost always unproductive in the ways that I’d like a conversation to be productive. Doesn’t mean that another person finds it extremely productive for a variety of reasons that don’t apply to me.

But I have seen whole groups, whole movements of people who identify as abuse survivors, who seem to wander around the internet frothing at the mouth for a good knock-down drag-out fight with pretty much anyone and I don’t agree with that. I left Stuff Christian Culture Likes because the community as a whole engaged in bullying en masse. I’ve seen relative unkowns, people with less than a hundred followers on Twitter, get ripped to shreds by hundreds of people all at once and it is disturbing.

To me, some of the things I see on happen on Survivor!Twitter don’t seem any different than the 4Chan trolls who organized to harass and threaten Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu.

I also don’t think it’s ok to do the this to “public figures.” I will shout about how Mark Driscoll and Tony Jones are sexist bullies until the cows come home, and while I’ll join a protest– I’m not going to join a mob. I think leaders like Tony Jones and Matthew Paul Turner tend to see pitchforks and torches where none actually exist and misinterpret many people criticizing them all at once as a “lynch mob” (note: fellow white people, please do not use the term lynch mob to describe anything that happens to you until you’ve been an oppressed racial minority for centuries and a crowd of people show up at your house with a noose), but I have to admit that I am terrified of becoming a “public figure” like Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Weber.

The platform I have right now is small and intimate and lovely and cozy and I think it’s pretty much the best thing ever. But, hopefully, someday, I’ll write a New York Times best-seller and have a blog where every post gets a 100+ comments, and while that will also be awesome… I’m still going to be a human being, and I am going to fuck up. I am going to do something pretty bad, and it is going to upset an awful lot of people. I hope that when that day comes that I’ll realize how badly I fucked up and be able to make amends, but I also hope that when I do, eventually, fuck up that someone doesn’t make a parody account of me and that my inbox isn’t flooded with people telling me that I’m a worthless human being and that I’m no better than an abuser.

Photo by Richard Elzey